West Campus has problems, and Allie Runas wants to fix them.
Runas, an electrical and computer engineering senior, is currently in the process of organizing a West Campus neighborhood association. She said she was spurred to begin a resident-driven housing authority for the neighborhood to tackle some of the issues she’s seen in her last two years of living there, as well as to promote underrepresented voices in the area.
“A lot of people in our neighborhood are renters and young,” Runas said. “I’m trying to make sure they’re not being taken advantage of and that they know the resources that are available to them.”
Runas said sidewalk accessibility is the main priority, with many cracked and uneven or too narrow and dangerous to walk on. She also wants to be able to enforce tenants’ rights as well as see tangible progress on the West Campus lighting survey. The survey studies where lighting should be added in West Campus.
“I want it to serve as a formal reminder to (the) City Council, like, ‘Hey, don’t forget about us,’” Runas said.
Around 25 people are involved with or have expressed interest in the process to get the association off the ground, Runas said. While most are students, she said the association will not exclude older renters and homeowners in the area in order to make it more transparent and accessible. Forming an association requires only paperwork and must be approved by the city.
West Campus does have an existing neighborhood association, the University Area Partners, which has covered the area since 1991. Founding member Mike McHone, a real estate broker, said the Partners have already contributed much to the area, and worries about the sustainability of a student-led
“Why don’t they just come on over and help us out?” McHone said. “I think it would be much more effective if all of us worked together … rather than creating more chaos and confusion.”
However, Runas said she’s never seen University Area Partners advertise involvement to the student population.
“I decided to step up and make something that would fit the kind of neighborhood association I was looking for,” Runas said. “I realized that they tend to carry a lot of weight, and then you can go into the City Council and not just speak on behalf of yourself but speak on behalf of the neighborhood.”
The organization will advertise its first general meeting, which Runas said she hopes will be in January.
Assistant architecture professor Jake Wegmann said increased participation from renters will ultimately create a better housing culture in Austin and said he thought it was a “fantastic” initiative.
“I don’t know how exactly it’ll play out but it surely can’t hurt,” Wegmann said. “It’s so easy for something like that to get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. But if there’s someone who is shining a spotlight on these issues and doing their homework … that’s the kind of stuff that makes things happen in cities.”
Even younger renters new to the city deserve a say in how Austin is shaped, Runas said.
“I’m hoping that this inspires everyone in West Campus to take ownership of being an Austinite,” Runas said. “We live here too now. This is our home and I want to make it feel like our home.”
Originally published in The Daily Texan on November 28, 2018
By Raga Justin
Photo: Elizabeth Garbedian